Northeast Scotland, 29 October, 2003
Maxwell, who had grown up with consistent parental praise for his vivid imagination, vividly imagined the fog curling away to reveal the severed heads of seven Scottish lairdlings neatly impaled on their own peat shovels.
“And the poor laird fell from the top of his tower as he heard the tragic word,” declaimed the tour guide. Maxwell had been in Scotland a week, long enough to realize that the guide was laying on the r’s a bit thicker than necessary. The other tourists seemed to appreciate the performance: the Italian woman to his left vibrated her breasts in perfect rhythm with his sonorous “hearrrrrd”.
“Shit was hardcore back then,” said the American teenager, who wore a Linkin Park t-shirt and an awed expression. “Dude. All seven of his sons. Whack, whack, whack...”
Maxwell didn’t wait for him to finish the exact count. He wandered off a few paces, rubbed his chin and tried to focus his mind’s eye. Celtic feudalism, ritual sacrifice, penny-dreadful gore, Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, Damien Hirst’s dead cow museum pieces? So many ideas spawned by the imagery, but then, of course, so many ideas already done before. Definitely not a painting, no.
He reached out to touch the green lichen crawling across the stone—
“Can you take our picture, son?”
—and drew it back. His flash of irritation faded, because the elderly couple beaming at him were so stereotypically quaint and squat and jolly, wearing matching fanny packs. “Oh, of course,” he said, with a genuine smile.
The wife of the pair seemed pleased. “Gosh, that’s a lovely accent you’ve got,” she said as she handed him her middle-of-the-road point-and-shoot. “Are you from around here, then?”
He fumbled the camera for a second before finding and sliding the on-off button. “Canadian actually, but my parents are from London. I live in Victoria. That’s on the West coast.” He added that last detail quickly, before they assumed “Victoria” was the name of some posh London suburb instead of a Canadian island populated mostly by retirees and anarcho-hippies. “Um, say cheese!”
“You just—” the husband tried to direct.
“He’s got it, Bill. Cheese!”
“Scoot to the left, would you? So the castle’s right over your shoulder. That’s it!” He raised the camera and squeezed off three shots, the third of which was ruined by some guy wandering in from the left side. He looked up from the viewscreen, squinting at the man who’d ruined the third shot, and then sucked in a deep breath.
What really caught his eye was the tan. Sure, he’d seen plenty of hot guys — blokes? — since coming to the UK two weeks ago, but they all seemed to have the pasty malnourished coloring of someone who spent too much time in the rain. Which made sense, of course, because they did. In fact, it was kind of a minor miracle that it wasn’t raining now.
The man in front of him apparently didn’t have that problem, and Maxwell guessed it wasn’t because he spent a lot of time in a bed lined with lightbulbs. He looked perfectly outdoors-y. His hiking boots were well worn, and by the way his khakis and flannel shirt draped, Maxwell could tell he had a cut, lean body underneath — not quite broad enough for a weightlifter, but a rock-climber, maybe.
“Can we have our camera back?”
“Oh, huh, yeah,” he muttered, stuffing it unceremoniously back into the woman’s hands. He thought he said something like, “Enjoy the rest of the tour,” but he couldn’t be sure. Too transfixed to be subtle, he made a beeline for the man who’d ruined their shot. But not his.
Only a few more paces. He just needed to work his way through this knot of Korean tourists posing with the guide, scrabble over a bit of brush...
At this distance he could see the tanline where his man usually wore a watch, but had foregone one today. Sandy blond hair, wavy, not quite short enough to be called a buzz-cut, but not long enough to get your fists in, either. A tendril of arousal laced through him, at that image.
Shake it off. Don’t make an ass of yourself by getting all eager.
If the man was interested, Maxwell was most definitely available. And why wouldn’t he be interested? As long as he wasn’t Scotty McStraightbloke, anyway, Maxwell figured he had a pretty good chance.
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